Prayer in the 21st Century, Laurence Freeman OSB
Silence is not only the absence of noise, physical noise, as there will always be some noise around you even if it is just your tummy rumbling.
The real essence of silence is attention, paying attention.
What do we pay attention to?
Most of the time we are paying attention, more or less, to what is going on in our heads.
To a stream of thoughts, imagination, fantasy, anxiety, that is just flowing through our minds in a constant stream of consciousness.
Because we are so deeply in the habit of paying attention just to that stream of mental activity it seems to us that that is what prayer is all about – paying attention to nice thoughts, good thoughts, thoughts about God, or nice words.
What the contemplative tradition tells us is that there are perfectly valid forms and good forms of prayer that we can do at that level of consciousness, with our minds – thinking, reading, and speaking – but they point to something deeper, the prayer of the heart in which we lay aside thoughts, words, and images.